By Darrel Crain, D.C.
Valentine’s Day, you may recall, was named for a priest in ancient Rome. He was beheaded for secretly marrying Roman soldiers to their sweethearts against the wishes of emperor Claudius II. It seems Claudius didn’t want his soldiers distracted by the thought of a loving wife awaiting their return from battle, alive. Father Valentine’s romantic heart led him to risk everything for love. He was later named a saint, not just by the Catholic Church, but also by the greeting card companies and the chocolate industry.
February is National Heart Month, understood by many to mean we are supposed to eat mountains of heart-shaped chocolates every day of the month, not just Valentine’s Day. Scientists from the candy industry were in the news recently, sharing their discovery that chocolate is actually a healthy food for your heart. Antioxidants! Fiber! Hooray for chocolate! By golly, all you have to do is eat about three pounds of chocolate to get the same amount of antioxidants and fiber found in a medium-sized carrot! These same scientists may be the ones who later reported that dialing your cell phone is great aerobic exercise.
Congress decided way back in 1963 that February should be National Heart Month, “In recognition of the ongoing fight against heart disease.” More than forty years have gone by since the battle began, so let’s take a few moments to see who has the upper hand in this slugfest. Have the hearts of America knocked heart disease down with a one-two punch, or is it the other way around? Sadly, cardiovascular disease retains the title as America’s number one killer. Maybe we should review our battle plan and see what’s working and what’s not.
Okay, ladies first. For thirty years, women were encouraged to take Hormone Replacement Therapy, or HRT. It became the second-most prescribed drug in the world. What a pill it was! Reduce heart attacks and stroke! Goodbye osteoporosis! Cancer? No problem. Wow, was there anything this pill couldn’t do? Uh-oh, bummer! After almost forty years, a teensy weensy, little tiny boo-boo was discovered with this therapy. One day the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that HRT actually increases, not decreases heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis and cancer! I am not making this up. This scandalous oversight brings to mind the words of Wallace Stegner, “Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus.”
Okay, HRT was a bad idea, but we need to get over it and just let bygones be bygones. Please send a donation to your favorite pharmaceutical company to help them cope with their lost revenue. Now we can get back to the task at hand, plotting to kill heart disease. The next clever innovation on the medical front in this war against heart disease is: more drugs! This is shocking news, I know, but it is the truth. An entire arsenal of drugs is in our war chest, designed to normalize what’s going on inside our own chests. Take blood pressure, for example. The goal is to lower blood pressure so that it fits in the current normal, or average range. Relying on averages can be a tricky business though, as one statistician discovered by accident. He drowned while attempting to wade across a swift river that was “only three feet deep on average.”
Our obsession with trying to achieve “normal” and “average” numbers concerning blood pressure and cholesterol levels is a curious dedication. Suppose the heater in your family room was heating the room to 88 degrees. You know it is supposed to only heat to 72 degrees, so you get on the phone and call your heater doctor. He comes out to the house and checks the temperature in your family room. “Sure enough,” he says, “it’s hot in here.” He prescribes an air conditioner for you to place in the room. “But doc,” you say, “there must be some problem with the heater, shouldn’t we find out why it’s too hot?” To you this sounds like a reasonable question. The doctor replies, “Listen, I know what I’m doing. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials have proven that if you put an air conditioner in there, it’ll cool that room right down.”
Welcome to the Land of Oz. The Tin Woodsman said, “Now I know I’ve got a heart because it’s breaking.” His doctors prescribed the Tin Man beta-blockers, calcium-channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and all the rest to lower his blood pressure, but his insurance wouldn’t cover it. He took up jogging instead. And cholesterol? His cholesterol numbers were okay, but they told him to start taking statin drugs now, just in case. The Tin Man decided to go vegetarian instead.
History tells us that in matters of the heart, love is the best remedy. I say we stop fighting heart disease and start loving our hearts. Edward Bulwer-Lytton was correct when he said, “A good heart is better than all the heads in the world.” Heart disease may be a top killer among chronic diseases, but it also known to be incredibly reversible.
Dr. Dean Ornish is a specialist in reversing heart disease, and his work has been replicated in clinics all over the world. His patients do not fight what their heart is doing, they learn to work with natural laws to nurture their own cardiovascular system back to health. Participants in Dr. Ornish’s programs make specific dietary changes, engage in daily moderate exercise and attend small group discussions with other people making the same lifestyle changes.
Naming February as National Heart Month was accomplished with an actual decree from Congress. It is a great way to raise health awareness, but I say why stop with the heart? What about our National Gallbladders and National Spleens? It has been suggested that we declare March as National Liver Month, what with all the drinking on St. Patrick’s Day every year. Advice from doctors for a healthy heart invariably warns against excessive alcohol, yet there’s an old French proverb that says, “There are more old drunkards than old doctors.” Hmm.
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Dr. Darrel Crain is a chiropractor, practicing in Alpine, California
Copyright © 2006 Darrel Crain – All rights reserved.
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